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A NEW PREHISTORIC ANTHROPOMORPHIC fastened to a string or clasped in wood in order to throw

FIGURE FROM THE SHARQIYAH, OMAN them (Das Gupta 2009: 51-53 Abb. 3).

Paul Yule, Seminar fr die Sprachen und Kulturen des One may legitimately question whether the makers of the
Vorderen Orients, Ruprecht-Karls-Universitt anthropomorphs from India and Oman really considered
Heidelberg, GERMANY them to be similar in function. After all, the latter
anthropomorphs show even less resemblance to human
The following lines muse about a curious kind of artefact, form than those from India. Completely schematised are
which may have shared a common origin from prehistoric the 'legs' and 'arms'. While the provenance of
South-eastern Arabia and South Asia, are dedicated to a anthropomorphs from al-Aqr is known in detail, that for
master of this interregional dialogue. He has devoted the one being introduced here is not. It is not a solution to
many productive years to illuminating the age from the condemn these artefacts as forgeries as a result of their
4th to 2nd millennia BC in Oman. not optimal provenance.

Weighing up to 6 kg, so-called anthropomorphic figures The author associates the five al-Aqr anthropomorphs (cf.
are one of the most striking artefacts of prehistoric Fig. 1b) with a copper artefact which came to light in
northern India. Flat figures fashioned of copper alloy, Ras al-Jins 2, building 7, room 2, period III (Fig. 1c;
which bear a superficial resemblance to a frontally Yule 2003: 538 fig 1.9; 541). The eight room house plan
depicted human, suggest an abbreviated head, arms and offers few clues for the use of the artefact (personal
legs. They often are pattern-hammered. Several examples communication, letter by V. Azzara 22.02.2012).
have been catalogued on the Subcontinent and belong to Together with the DA 11861, a necklace made of one
the so-called Indian Copper Hoards (Yule 1985; Yule et round and twenty-three oval copper beads occurred in
al. 1989; Wikipedia Copper Hoard Culture), which Room 2. First in a later stage, the room contained
occur mostly in the Ganges-Yamuna plain. grinding stones, hammer stones as well as a millstone
Geographically, the writer has assigned most of these related to processing activities.
anthropomorphs to his Doab group of hoard artefacts.
They frequently occur together with other kinds of The point of comparison between this piece and the
metallic artefacts in hoards. Organic remains have not others lies in two main attributes: the aniconic 'head' and
survived, just the metal-finds. the thrashed patterning on both sides of the artefact. The
rub is that Maurizio Tosi and Serge Cleuziou understand
In the 1980s, Shaikh Sad bin Al bin Sultan bin Mn its use as a, "large hoe-shaped tanged flat tool of still
from al-Aqr near Bal in Omans al-hirah province undetermined function" or a chopper (Cleuziou and Tosi
submitted eight metallic artefacts and 16 'bun ingots' to 1997: 68, 81 fig. 12). Although for the use identification
the Department of Archaeology in al-Khuwayr, which the there is no absolute right or wrong, the writer points out
writer interprets to be a foundation deposit from beneath the unusual shared surface patterning, a lack of clear use-
an ancient runoff dam (Yule 2003: 541). Shaikh Sad wear and general morphological attributes, such as the
described to Gerd Weisgerber the exact find conditions cross section. But if the artefact was hafted with a handle,
of the metal-finds underneath an ancient diversion this might resolve the question.
dam/wall which he demolished (Yule 2003: 537).
The dating of most South Asian anthropomorphs is
First, the term 'anthropomorphic figure' requires debated, because few derive from known archaeological
explanation. Mostly from the Ganges-Yamuna, all are contexts (Yule et al. 1989: 222, 230 tab. 2; Yule 2003:
simple and aniconic. If in fact, humans are represented, 539-541 fig 1). One example from Lothal in Gujarat
missing, for example, are ears, eyes, feet and hands. (phase 4 period A) occurred in a context which the
Nonetheless, this basic name sticks for lack of a better excavator S.R. Rao dates by means of radiocarbon to the
one. The name anthropomorph is a convenient 19th century BC. Typologically, the finds from Oman can
convention which facilitates discussion. be attributed to the Umm an-Nar period (2500-1900 BC).
The context of the piece from Ras al-Jins dates to 2300-
Controversial theories explain the use of anthropomorphs. 2100, two to four centuries earlier than that from Lothal,
Based on European behavioural models, the writer sees but consonant with that from al-Aqr.
them as ritual deposits and denies a functional use such as
casters hoards (Yule et al. 1989: 229). One reason is Like its relatives, the new (unrestored) anthropomorph
because they evince no clear traces of use-wear. In (Fig. 1a; 29.7 x 29.5 x 0.8 cm, ca. 1500 g) is fashioned of
addition, if form follows function, they are too big or copper alloy. It has a thin, dull khaki patina on one face,
heavy to be used as tools, or are simply ergo logically the other unpatinated one is oxidised dark grey.
incomprehensible. Some hoards cannot be retrieved after Unfortunately this artefact is only a stray which Amed
deposition and thus can have had no economic value amd Sad al-Farsi from Wilyat Maou/al-Juba re-
perhaps only a cultic one. A craftsman develops simple ported to be from Sinaw/Sharqyah, some 200 km south
and practical means to accomplish his work. At present, of al-Aqr. Like those from al-Aqr, its surface is patterned
we cannot convincingly explain the anthropomorphs as with groups of parallel thrash-marks, but only on one face.
tools. Colleagues have suggested that they represent the The al-Aqr anthropomorphs have them on one (DA
vajra weapons of Sanskrit religious lore, which were 15713) or both (DA 15496, 15497, 15499) faces. Given
the similar dull patina only on one face and the general

similarity in type, one might ask if it in fact also derives
from the al-Aqr deposit. At any rate, it probably also
originated in the Umm an-Nar period owing to its
similarity with the others. To the field archaeologist it
seems a shame not to have found any (aside from the
Ras al-Jins piece) in context. Anthropomorphs fuel
musing regarding artefactual or even spiritual contact
between the two regions.


Cleuziou, S. and M. Tosi 1997. Evidence for the Use of

Aromatics in the Early Bronze Age of Oman, in A.
Avanzini (ed.) Profumi dArabia, Rome: 5781.

Das Gupta, T.K. 2009. Die anthropomorphen Figuren

der Kupferhortfunde aus Indien, in Jahrbuch Rm.-
Germ. Zentralmuseums Mainz 56, Mainz: 3980.

Yule, P. 1985. The Bronze Age Metalwork of India. Pr-

historische Bronzefunde 20.8. Munich.

Yule, P. 2003. Beyond the Pale of Near Eastern

Archaeology: Anthropomorphic Figures from al-Aqir
near Bal, Sultanate of Oman, Man and Mining, in T.
Stllner, G. Krlin, G. Steffens and J. Cierny (eds)
Mensch und Bergbau Studies in Honour of Gerd
Weisgerber on Occasion of his 65th Birthday, Bochum:
also under the same title published in Pragdhara,
Lucknow 14, 2004, 231239.
URL: http://archiv.ub.uni- Fig. 1. a) Anthropomorphic figure said to have been found in Sinaw/Sharqyah (DA 24964); 1 b) Anthropomorphic figure from
Bal/al-Aqr (DA 15496); C) Suspected anthropomorphic figure from
Ras al-Jins (DA 11961).
Yule, P., Hauptmann, A. and M. Hughes 1989. The
Copper Hoards of the Indian Subcontinent: Preliminaries
for an Interpretation, in Jahrbuch Rm.-Germ.
Zentralmuseums Mainz 36, Mainz: 193275.

The writer thanks the Ministry of National Heritage and Culture for
permission to publish the images used. Images by the author.